Day 1 for a $1 app on the Mac App Store

(A quick introduction to this new blog: my name is Pauli, I’m Finnish, and I make software. You can find out more on the About page. I started this blog today because I sort of promised that I would publish my App Store numbers. There’s already a blog for my company, but this stuff is not really relevant to the customers of that product. Hence, a new blog. I intend to use this blog as a personal soapbox that will probably deal with esoteric technical topics… Just like a million other programmers’ blogs out there.)

As you probably know, the Mac App Store launched yesterday. Like a prelude to Lion, the 10.6.6 update to the Mac operating system pushed the App Store icon onto the Docks of Mac users worldwide. There, glowing its cool blue light, the App Store icon patiently awaits your curious click, ready to siphon dollars from your iTunes account as you wander wide-eyed through the eye-candy store of a thousand apps and stumble upon impulse purchases too alluring to ignore.

That’s the theory, anyway. The mood in the Mac community before the launch seemed to be a mix of anticipation and anxiety. Most everyone agreed that the App Store would be a substantial usability improvement over how Mac OS X apps have been distributed for the past ten years — have you ever tried to explain disk image downloads to an average user whose only experience with files has probably been to keep everything on the Windows desktop?

On the other hand, there was widespread worry that the App Store would threaten the relatively high end-user prices that have allowed many Mac developers to make a living on the platform. When the iPhone App Store launched in mid-2008, there quickly began a race to the bottom that ended in a significant portion of apps costing $1 — while being worth even less. Would the Mac App Store suffer a similar price war and ensuing quality erosion?

I’m one of these potential bad guys because I published a $0.99 app on the Mac App Store. My app is called Turtledoveland; check out the Mac App Store product page for more details. It’s not the greatest or most useful app in the world, but I’d like to think it’s not the worst kind of $1 app either, because it’s an honest attempt at making something slightly unique.

I originally wrote the image generation code for this app back in 2002. Back then I sold it as a screensaver for a while, never selling more than a dozen copies. I think I charged something like $12 for the screensaver — whoa! Last year, I rediscovered the source code and ported it to the iPad (product page). When the Mac App Store was announced, it was not more than an evening’s work to backport it to Mac. I would have liked to publish it as a screensaver, but Apple has a strict rule against apps purchased from the Mac App Store installing anything in shared operating system locations… And that’s where a screensaver would need to go. So I made a standalone app instead.

(A bit of useless benchmark trivia: when I originally wrote this image generator, I had a PowerMac G4 with a 867 MHz processor. The iPad turned out to be roughly as fast at executing this code as my old PowerMac, and has a better graphics processor! Rationally I knew that the iPad beats a 10-year old workstation, but it’s still pretty amazing to see it in practice.)

Games excepted, there are not all that many $1 apps on the Mac App Store. In fact, the “Graphics & Design” category in which I decided to place my image-making app only had three of them yesterday when the store launched. (The other two $1 apps are an on-screen ruler and a painting program with less features than Windows 3.0 Paint.)

Presumably due to the dearth of cheap apps, my app got a position on the “Top Paid” chart in its category. Turtledoveland started out at #5 yesterday, and is currently at #7.

So what does that mean in terms of actual units sold? Here is the iTunes sales report from January 6:

Turtledoveland for Mac sales report

I’m pretty happy with this. It’s not a lot of money, of course — I’m getting about 40 euros after Apple has taken their cut. But for comparison, 77 units is more than the iPad version of this same app has sold over the past three months…

Even if this level of sales doesn’t keep up, I’m definitely motivated to publish more stuff on the Mac App Store in the future. My plan is certainly not to spam the App Store with $1 apps. For what it’s worth, the rules of the Mac App Store seem to have been designed to give Apple maximum leeway to reject apps they don’t want to have on the store. Therefore I’m optimistic that the Mac App Store will remain a good place to find Mac software. I’m also pretty sure that it will feature heavily in the marketing of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” when it ships later this year. The “MAS” is here to stay.

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5 Responses to Day 1 for a $1 app on the Mac App Store

  1. Samuel says:

    It nice that you published your stats. I am still wondering what effect it would have on bundle promotions. Would it kill the business or just reduce the number of sales made.

  2. urssur says:

    Well done sir ! the guys at bonobo published figures for their free mac app and I was not that impressed , mostly because it’s just buzz and it’s free … your app on the other hand proves that there are customers out there for mac apps.

    Thank you for sharing !

  3. Doug says:

    I don’t mean to be critical, but is a high point of $50 in one day really enough to motivate you to keep working at the platform? Do you have hopes to have something bigger, or is the goal to end up with 50 apps each making $20/day so you can make a good living at this? (This is an honest question — I’ve always wondered about the personal motivations of $1 app developers).

    • pauli says:

      I’m not planning to make a living with $1 apps on the Mac App Store. I can’t speak for the motivations of those who do $1 apps exclusively, but presumably it’s something like you outline: dozens of simple apps on the “long tail” of sales. I get the impression that Apple will try to make that difficult on the Mac App Store, though.

      For my part, I’m pleased about Turtledoveland’s sales so far because I had low expectations. It’s surprising that I can make even 40 euros / day from repackaging an old piece of code. Without the Mac App Store, this code would have rot away on a CD-R forever. Now I was able to publish it with minimal effort to a worldwide audience.

      That’s why the Mac App Store has the promise of becoming very disruptive to the existing model of software sales. My other app, Conduit Suite, costs $199. Back when Conduit launched, it was perceived as very affordable because the app that it most closely resembled cost $4995… Now there’s an emerging culture of $1 apps on the same platform. A lot has changed in five years.

  4. Randy says:

    Looks like new opportunities on the platform via the Mac App store brought old software back to life. I wonder how many other stories like your there end up being.

    Anyways, Congratulations.

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